Meet Warren. Warren is a physicist. He loves understanding things. He gets excited about calculus. He thinks that black holes are the coolest things ever. He thinks that they’re even cooler once you know the physics. To Warren, a rainbow doesn’t lose any of its beauty after you understand how it works. What Warren wants to do with his life is use science to make the world better, and share his love for the truth with other people.
Now meet Alexander. Alexander is a lot like Warren. He, too, loves understanding things. He, too, loves the truth. But unlike Warren, Alexander believes in God. He had a conversion experience as a teenager, where God revealed Himself to him, and his life was changed forever. Now Alexander studies philosophy, theology, metaphysics. He sees himself as a privileged witness to a great, hidden truth. He sees himself as a light-bringer, one who was sent to bring knowledge of the spirit to the world.
Now meet Ram. Ram is a lot like Alexander. He, too, has experienced enlightenment. He, too, feels himself to have been a witness to a deep, eternal truth. But Ram rarely talks about it. Maybe he’s a monk living in the forest; maybe he’s homeless; maybe he’s bagging groceries at the store near your house; maybe he’s teaching math at a local high school. Ram is enlightened, but his response to that fact was just to keep living his life. He’s the Zen master on the corner; he’s the Buddha begging for change; he is an enlightened man disguised as an ordinary person.
Warren is the rationalist. Alexander is the metaphysician. Ram is the mystic. These three have an intimate, tangled relationship with each other. I have seen the archetypal conflicts of that relationship played out in my life over and over again: between me and my friends, between public figures and other public figures, and most especially, between me and myself.
I pointed out that Alexander is a lot like Ram. But Warren is a little like Ram, too. Warren’s wonder at the beauty and order of the universe can approach the same sort of stupefying ecstasy whose momentary occurrence shapes and defines the lives of Ram and Alexander. Warren’s steadfast conviction of the worth of knowing, the vow he made in his heart to follow the truth wherever it leads, is rather akin to the religious conviction that captivates and consumes Ram and Alexander.
Warren has strong beliefs about reality. He believes that science is the only way to seek the truth. He believes that materialism is true; reductionism is true; the mind is the brain; God does not exist; we do not have souls; everything follows the laws of physics. To Warren all of these things are basic and obvious.
Alexander, too, has strong beliefs about reality. He believes that God is real, and the purpose of human life is to seek union with Him. Alexander believes that we live forever. He believes in a metaphysical realm beyond the physical universe and the means of human observation. Unlike Warren, who believes that truth comes only through reasoning and empirical observation, Alexander believes that truth can come through gnosis, through “inner knowing.”
Warren and Alexander have an ongoing drama. They each have their philosophical convictions, and each feels that these are important points that everybody needs to appreciate. Each feels not only that their beliefs are *true*, but that the world would be a better place if everybody accepted them. But they don’t agree with each other, and so they get into interminable arguments.
What a complex relationship these two have! How many layers there are to their social dynamic! Each feels superior to the other. Each feels like he is enlightened one, and the other is lost and off the path. Each wants to convince the other.
Why? Partly as a demonstration of dominance. Partly out of a sincere desire to help the other, by sharing with the other what was so valuable to the self. And partly out of a sense of insecurity, a buried fear that maybe you are right and I am wrong.
And funnily enough, each feels, deep down, that the other has something to offer them. They might never admit it. But this is part of the perversity of their relationship, that each is rather attracted to the other’s philosophy. If only subconsciously, they want to learn it.
If you are skeptical of this claim, consider this. When I am totally sure that somebody else is wrong, and I don’t expect to change their minds, then I just ignore them. To feel the impulse to argue, I need a little fear. Cranks don’t scare me. What scares me is when I think somebody’s wrong, but I have the feeling of truth pulling me toward their view, and yet I can’t stand the thought that it really is true. That is when I will start trying to refute them.
Warren is scared of Alexander, and Alexander is scared of Warren. Neither will admit it. Warren admires Alexander, and Alexander admires Warren. Neither will admit it. This is the secret, buried aspect of their relationship. Neither will admit that the other affects them.
That is the social aspect of Warren and Alexander’s relationship. But they see their problem as an intellectual one. For them, it is not a matter of how you make me feel and how I make you feel. Rather, it is a question of whether or not God really exists, whether or not the mind really is the brain, and so forth. It is purely a question of what is really true, and not about the people talking about it. That is how they feel.
To a great extent, they obscure their social problems from themselves by thinking that there is only an intellectual problem. Of course, let us not make the opposite mistake, of thinking that there is only a social problem, and ignoring the intellectual problem. It is clear that there is a genuine intellectual problem being discussed. But this intellectual aspect is almost overly clear; it is so naked and so thoroughly examined that it seems like there is almost nothing more to gain from analyzing it further. On the other hand the social aspect of the problem is quite obscured, quite ignored, quite neglected. Mightn’t making new intellectual progress depend upon first making new social progress? Mightn’t having a productive discussion depend upon finding a new *way* of discussing?
So that is Warren and Alexander. There is another complex relationship that we must examine: that between Alexander and Ram.
Ram is quite obviously the entire source of Alexander’s inspiration. Alexander can be himself only insofar as he can approximate being like Ram. His metaphysical knowledge is an empty and worthless shell indeed without the pure, experiential mysticism that Ram lives so fully; and Alexander *knows* this, if not in every moment.
Alexander’s entire game can be described like this. Having imperfectly grasped, through the veil of the intellect, the wisdom that Ram lives, Alexander practices a mysticism that is always distorted by his continual attempts to employ logic in areas where it is not helpful. (The concept of “areas where logic is not helpful” amuses Warren immensely!) Sometimes Alexander is oblivious to his own folly; other times he is aware of it but doesn’t know what to do about it. He doesn’t know *how* he would live other than through his intellect.
Ram’s attitude towards Alexander is very simple. For Ram, Alexander is exactly as beautiful and insignificant as the flowers he passes on his morning walk. But Alexander has a very complex attitude towards Ram. He is allured, bewildered, mystified, humbled, belitted by Ram. And, at the same time, he routinely utterly fails to notice when Ram passes him by on the street. He routinely fails to hear Ram’s worldless teachings because he drowns them out by all his talking.
That is Ram and Alexander. Our final pairing is Warren and Ram, who barely know each other at all. Warren doesn’t know what mysticism is, and even if he did, he would have no problem with it. Warren doesn’t have anywhere to disagree with Ram, because Ram never says anything. On the other hand, Ram has heard of science, and he finds it as beautiful and insignificant as the flowers he passes on his morning walk.
A corrollary of this fact is that, for Ram, there is no problem of reconciling rationality and mysticism. Ram never saw any conflict to begin with.